Tintin est Mort!


On March 3rd, 1983, the French daily Libération ran under an unusual cover: Against a black background, as though seen through a telescope, a circular drawing portrayed a cowlicked boy lying face down in the snow while a white fox terrier keened brokenly beside him. Tintin est Mort! tolled the headline. It was in fact Hergé, the Belgian-born creator of the tufty-haired hero, who had departed the day prior, but the headline of that issue — in which Libération replaced every illustration, including those for political news, TV listings, weather reports, and even ads, with drawings from Hergé’s canon — indicated the extent to which the man had become enmeshed with his famous creation. For the French-speaking world, it may as well have been Tintin who’d died, rather than the man who, despite valuing lightness, clarity, and humor above all, was never nearly so clear and precise in his politics as he was in his art. Hergé’s style, to bowdlerize Roland Barthes, might be called biographical: He and Tintin are linked by this very tension between truth and simplicity. The Tintin stories — published in 1929 in the right-leaning Catholic newspaper Le Petit Vingtieme, then later in Hergé’s own Journal Tintin and the series of Casterman albums through which we know them now — are celebrated for what the Dutch artist Joost Swarte, writing in 1977, dubbed Hergé’s ligne claire, or “clear line,” style. In his use of uniform, strong lines, flat, saturated color, and clearly delineated shapes and volumes, Hergé negotiates between the techniques of his era’s naturalistic adult adventure comics like Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy and those of gag-based newspaper strips like Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff.

more from Jenny Hendrix at the LA Review of Books here.